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CLERGYMEN AND TAXES

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CLERGYMEN AND TAXES A recent letter in the Times propounds a grievance, which may not perhaps appear to all its readers as im- portant as it does to the writer, but which has a certain amount of reality notwithstanding. An Essex Rector" says that-" The beneficed clergy are the most over- taxed community in England and while it is true they should bear their proper share of taxation, there is now so much inequality in the burden laid upon them that common justice, requires their case should be relieved. The truth is, the basis of rating is altogether wrong. Permit me to state my own case. My benefice is worth, taking the commutation and glebe-X375 out of which I paid last year, without being able to help it-Land tax, il13 10s income tax, 18 5s highway rate, £ 5 Queen Anne's Bounty, £ 44 10s poor rate, £ 46—total £ 117 5s. Then I had to pay at least X 10 for my village school and parochial charities, making one-third of my clerical income. Now, what class is similary taxed ? What officer, merchant, or fundholder has to expend one-third of his income upon rates and taxes ? And this is quite independent of repairs and insurances incid- ental to the so-called living, but which common prudence compels to be effected, and only leaves two-thirds of a fairly nominal income for all the expenses of family, house, life insurance, assesed taxes, servants, food, cloth- ing, and the countless calls upon a clergyman's pocket and kitchen. Nobody is expected to give like the clergy- man, and nobody is so heavily taxed. Surely the clergyman's grievances of taxation require attention and consequent readjustment and if income be taken as the basis of general taxation, or say only of poor rate, the pressure would be so universally distributed that all ratepayers would pay a little and none would be either overtaxed or, on the other hand, be free." Now, a good deal may, no doubt, be said in answer to this allegation of injustice. When the rector says that be has to pay "land tax, d613 10s; Queen Anne's bounty, £ 44 10s out of his benefice," it should be remembered thatthere is another way of summing up the question. It may be said that land tax and Queen Anne's bounty, especially the latter, are, in truth, not imposts levied from an individual, but charges on the land and tithe itself, constituting prior deductions from his ecclesias- tical income. Queen Anne's bounty, as we know, re- presents only the first fruits" of the benefice, which belonged to the Pope in old days, were afterwards seized on by the Crown, and finally assigned by Queen Anne to her fund for the improvement of poor livings. And although it is not unnatural that a rector should regard this taxation, as Parliament did in the first year of Henry the Fourth, as "a horrible mischief and a damnable custom." his still poorer brethren might perhaps regard the income derived from it as their property and not his. It would, therefore, be a more correct way of stating the rector's case to say that his benefice is worth X317 per annum, and omit all mention of those deductions, on which supposition the apparent grievance would disappear. All that could be truly said in further comment would be this, that there is something very vexatious, at least in appearance, in the system of remunerating. a public servant by a nominal amount of salary or income which is not the real one, because it is reduced by certain parings down which the holder feels but too sensibly, but of which the public knows little or nothing. Until of late years our civil servants were pensioned out of savings effected by forced contributions out of their allotted salaries. There was no real hardship in this, because a clerk at £2.50 a year, contributing X10 for superannuation, was in truth and ought to have been described as a clerk at £ 240. But it was felt as a sentimental" grievance at least, and ultimately abolished, whereby the State was, in truth, a loser. In the same way the ad valorem stamp duty, levied on warrants of appointment to public offices, amounts in truth to a deduction from the ap- parent value of those offices; one which is felt very keenly, because the payment has to be made before the enjoyment of the office begins. It ought to be abolished, and a proportional abatement made in salaries. But it would lead to misconception to term it a tax on the recipient of the income. Whether the clergyman or the public officer is underpaid is one matter whether he is overtaxed in comparison with his fellow citizens, another. There remains the item of highway and poor's rates -£,)1 per annum—which the rector more justly places under the head of taxation, inasmuch as these are borne by him in common with the community in general. So far as they are so, there is, of course, no subject of com- plaint. But it is to these items, we suppose, that the rector alludes when he says that the basis of rating is entirely wrong." It is an old allegation of the holders of Church benefices that the assessment for rates (and that for income tax also) presses with undue weight upon them, because a different rule as to deductions from gross income is applied in their case from that which prevails in the case of ordinary occupiers. This is denied by various classes of opponents. But as the clergy are very little capable of self-defence against the encroachments of assessors of rates and taxes, we are strongly inclined to suspect that they are too commonly placed at a disadvantage. When, however, a Rector" expatiates on this grievance-supposing it to have some foundation-he should surely remember, on the other side, that his class are almost the only servants of the public (leaving the military on duty out of the question) who have lodging as well as income provided for them. It seems a little overstrained on his part to make expenses of house" an item of complaint, when others, with whose lot he seems to compare his own, "officers, merchants, and fundholders," have not only to pay "expenses of house," but also to pay for the house itself. Such Q. house as a clergyman occupies for nothing represents (in this point of view) an addition of L150, or 1100, or X50 (according to locality) to his nominal income. But, though not satisfied with the form in which our rector draws up his gravemen, we do not the less sym- pathize with him as regards the real substance of his case. Taking legal taxation and conventional taxation together-adding the sums for which the Exchequer directly and indirectly calls to those for which public opinion, and the necessities of the poor, and the style of life required of his office prefer an irresistible claim-we fully believe, with him, that no member of English society of the cultivated classes is subject to snch large outgoings in proportion to his incomings. We debar him jealously from every mode of increasing his means by secular occupation, except that of instruction only. We tie him down to the receipt of a closely-restricted income by our laws against pluralities laws right in principle, but both unjust and unreasonable in their too general applica- tion laws of which the enforcement ought, in sober sense, to have been left in great measure to the discre- tion of the higher ecclesiastical authorities, but which it was deemed necessary to put into execution equally and unsparingly on account of the incurable addiction of those authorities to jobbery. His duty is to visit the poor; and although this is, of course, nominally for the purpose of spiritual consolation only, no man with a heart can execute such a function without a constant struggle to keep in order the tendency to aid with more material help. How large a portion he really bears of the expenditure of a poor parish in education is well known to those who are concerned in the details of that subject-, hardly known to any one else. And yet, with all this burden on him, he is expected, in own parish, to keep almost on a level with the neighbouring gentry, or higher professional class at all events, in social state and hospitality. Of course the solution of the apparent im- possibility is to be found in the fact that a large propor- tion of those who obtain benefices in the Church of England are men possessed of some independent in- come. But this only renders the case harder of those who have no such income-of those who have really entered it as a profession by which they are to live. We do not profess to suggest on the present occasion any special method by which the" Essex Rector's" griev- ances may be mollified. But we are very certain that in all legislation and in all financial schemes touching the subject tender regard should be had for the con- dition of a body of men who on the whole do more for their country, and with less of immediate reward, than any other body which can be named, whatever view we may take of the special questions connected with their ecclesiastical function. --Pall Mail Gazette.

THE IRISH CONVOCATIONS.I

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THE SUPPRESSION OF CRIME.…

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THE INVIOLATE POUND.